We, the people

  • Esther van Messel, CEO

    Born 1965 in Vienna, lives in Switzerland and holds a Bachelor's degree in film & television production and in history from the University of Tel Aviv. In 1990, she joined Warner Bros. Israel and became Head of Distribution. From 1992 she produced international feature films and documentaries as Head of Co-Production and Sales for an independent production company in Zurich. In 1998, Esther van Messel founded her own company First Hand Films in Zurich and Berlin for world sales of documentaries and fiction films. First Hand Films acts as executive producer for selected projects. Esther van Messel has been working as a lecturer and consultant for various organisations like EAVE Brussels, IDFA Forum Amsterdam, Cinemart Rotterdam, Eurodoc Paris, Avea Johannesburg, Eureka Warsaw and Tallinn, Another Finland, TV Media Business School Barcelona, Discovery Campus Munich, F&S Screen Training Ireland, the Filmacademy Ludwigsburg, the Erich Pommer Institut and the Austrian Parliament, a.o. She was an appointed member of the Selection Committee for the Austrian Film Institute and served on several juries like Golden Link EBU and Nordisk Filmpanorama. Since 1999 she co-owns Vertical Strategy Ltd. in Leipzig together with Björn Koll from Edition Salzgeber Berlin. Esther van Messel is fluent in English, German, French, Dutch, Hebrew, and not yet in Danish. Since 1992 and 1995 she is raising a daughter and a son. She rides a Hornet 900.
  • Gitte Hansen, Sales & Acquisition

    Born on the rocky island of Bornholm, Denmark, Gitte Hansen lives in Switzerland since 2000. In Zurich Gitte worked with international distribution of feature films and started in 2002 at First Hand Films, where her work includes project development, financing & packaging, marketing strategy, executive producing, sales and acquisition. Previously Gitte has worked with inhouse factual production at DR-TV, she was Head of Information and Promotion with Filmkontakt Nord for five years in Copenhagen, coordinator of the Nordisk Forum for Co-financing of Documentaries, and has worked for the former MEDIA project DOCUMENTARY, which included the first edition of the EDN TV Guide and a study on the European Documentary sector regarding co- production and film financing. She has joined Vertical Strategies, Eurodoc session, Transmedia Next and is a consultant and lecturer at local and international workshops and events where she works for colleagues like EDN, Eurodoc, IDFA, Crossing Boarders and Ex Oriente. Gitte has served on several international film festival around Europe and holds a master in Film and Rhetoric from the University of Copenhagen.
  • Nicole Biermaier, Swiss Distribution & Sales

    Born 1971 to a French speaking mother and a German father, lives and works in Zurich. Nicole spent some significant years of working and wandering in London and Paris. She holds a Master of Arts and studied in Zurich at the Media Art department where she focused on interactive video, film, text, sound and experimented at the Film Department with 16mm essay film. At the University of Arts & ZKM in Karlsruhe it got even better, and she focused on experimental, essayistic documentary film. 2008-2010 Nicole researched at the Master class of Fine Arts within the field of expanded cinema. Throughout all of that, Nicole earned her living in a number of well-known international companies with administrational work. She used the knowledge gained in such an economical environment for her production work within the arts. Since 2000, Nicole has been developing and conducting many works in the field of art, theatre or film. Her projects have been exhibited and screened internationally. At the same time she was teaching and mentoring at the Universities in Bern and Zurich. Since June 2015 Nicole is part of the team at First Hand Films. She is happy to say goodbye to a time where earning money consisted of having 7 jobs or projects simultaneously and has many ideas for a fruit- and colourful future at the firm.
  • Katrine Thuesen, Junior Producer & Office Manager

    Katrine joined First Hand Films in summer 2019. Born in Denmark and raised in Switzerland by Danish parents, she attended a Danish university and then completed a Scottish Film Master. Before she joined First Hand Films, she worked at our local broadcaster SRF where she directed her first feature documentary. Now she is an aspiring producer and very excited to join an all-female crew of film enthusiasts assisting with everything at hand while developing the production department. Truth is always stranger than fiction, which is why Katrine is a big documentary nerd. Her life when not in documentary films is dominated by mountains and the sports one can do there. When she isn’t playing with the computer in the Zurich office, she throws herself down mountain chutes in her Valais home on either a mountain bike or a pair of skis.
  • Shan Guo, Executive Assistant

    Born and raised in China, lives in Germany, works in Zurich. She studied Communication and Cultural Management, Media Management in Germany, East Asian Art History, Film Studies and Japanese in Zurich. She worked as a journalist in German as well as in Chinese media industry, such as SWR 4 Bodensee Radio, Deutsche Welle and CCTV News Channel; and also worked as a technical coordinator assistant for an international film distributor in Germany. Film is her passion, she believes film has a special magic – a freedom of expression, when filmmakers express their attitudes toward life and the world through their art. Shan is fascinated by this attractive magic of film. She loves to share good films with people worldwide, films that make people laugh, cry and think.
  • Lea Link, Intern / Swiss Distribution

    Born and raised in Switzerland by a German mother and a Swiss father, Lea obtained her Bachelor degree in Graphic Design from the Hochschule Lucerne – Design & Art. She discovered her passion for cinema and films working at Fantoche, International Animation Film Festival, and while working as projectionist in an arthouse cinema. Now she’s excited to get to know the film world through distribution and world sales and is happy to be First Hand Films in-house graphic designer.
  • Shiran Shmerling, Intern / Sales

    Born and raised in Switzerland, moved to Israel to study film and television at Tel Aviv University. After completing her Bachelor’s Degree, Shiran continued her path with an international MBA at Tel Aviv International School while also certifying for the international Skipper’s license. She speaks seven languages and is learning the eighth now, Arabic. Before joining First Hand Films, Shiran grew her Airbnb business in Tel Aviv into an outstanding travel experience for her guests and is now looking forward to combining her varied experience at First Hand Films.